A Curious List
Why can’t more Christians relegate homosexuality to a nonessential?
Consider this list of important Christian beliefs:
- Women’s roles in leadership
- Church Polity
- The age of the Earth
- Various “Don’ts” like dancing, drinking, smoking, dating
- Keeping the Sabbath
- Continuation of the Charismatic gifts
This list is somewhat contrived in that it is a culturally contextualized catalog of just a few items that are important to Evangelicals but about which many Evangelicals disagree. These, and many other things I didn’t even list, are “non-essentials” of Christianity. To dissent on one of these issues will probably not threaten your church membership or create speculation around the legitimacy of your faith. You can still be a Christian even if you have differing beliefs stemming from different Scriptural interpretations about them because they don’t get to the heart of the gospel or the chief pillars of Christianity, perhaps most succinctly summarized in the Apostle’s Creed, though that too is also a document created by humans. In other words, despite how much ink has been spilled on the verses relating to the items in this list, disagreeing on them is usually not cause for repentance or enough justification for church discipline. However, among evangelicals, homosexuality is not considered a non-essential. Interesting.
Remember the whole World Vision fiasco? World Vision is a nonprofit at the heart of evangelicalism, and it was all but bullied by other evangelicals to return to its hiring discrimination of LGBT Christians. Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition — another touchstone of conservative evangelicalism — said this controversy of just hiring gay Christians, “was about the meaning of evangelical.” He then rhetorically asked, “Can an institution with an historic evangelical identity be divided on an issue as central as marriage and family and still be evangelical?” He goes on to say, “To abandon Christianity’s distinctive sexual ethic is to bow before the prevailing idol of our time and dismiss the authority of Scripture.” Really? Why is this true of homosexuality, but not the church’s teachings on divorce? Or keeping the Sabbath?
Or consider what Christian Post executive editor Richard Land, former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission wrote: “World Vision’s board has discovered an essential truth: the same-sex marriage issue is a truth serum for Evangelical Christianity. As World Vision has learned, Evangelicals cannot declare ‘neutrality’ on this issue, and it cannot be fudged or finessed.”
Back to the above list. Note that this isn’t a catalog of trifles such as the authorship of 2 Peter, which gospel was written first, or getting a tattoo. Indeed, how Christians interpret the Scripture around one of these beliefs will surely affect how they live their lives. Denominations have split and formed over some of these very issues. And yet still few would go so far as to say their dissenters have been given over to sin, must be kicked out of the church, and need to repent. Few would say their dissenters are so far beyond the bounds of orthodoxy as to have lost their faith altogether. Christians might personally judge dissenters in all sorts of ways, but a Presbyterian is unlikely to call a Baptist a fallen heathen. A Pentecostal probably isn’t going to say a Methodist is going to Hell. A new earth Creationist isn’t going to kick an old earth creationist out of his church. This is as it should be. There is diversity even amidst orthodoxy.
But why isn’t homosexuality considered a nonessential? Why are Christians condemned and excommunicated for having different beliefs on same-sex relationships? Why are children kicked out of Christian homes for being gay? Because it’s a sin? Well what about divorce then? Or drinking? Or breaking the Sabbath? One could argue those are sins as well. Why are the stakes so much higher when it comes homosexuality? It is considered an essential even though it does not contradict (or arguably even relate to) The Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, Christ’s death and resurrection, Loving God and your neighbor, or any other core Christian belief. And yet, somehow evangelicals have made it a core belief. Even the Evangelical Presbyterian Church — whose motto is “In Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity” — takes a firm stand against homosexuality. Jesus never even mentions homosexuality, though surely it was prevalent during his day, and yet on the evangelical moral checklist, it’s on the front page in bold print.
Outside of the central tenets of Christianity, there are layers within layers of beliefs, and it’s usually Christians, not Christ, who prioritizes them. Many are culturally contrived based on the age we live in (Not long ago, anti-semitism was Biblically supported and now that seems unfathomable). Aside from the very core tenets of Christianity, we have a choice to emphasize certain beliefs over others. But do we really have a choice to make something essential that isn’t, that Jesus never mentioned, that isn’t in the Apostle’s Creed, that is not related to the gospel of God’s love? Why can’t more churches, at the very least, demote homosexuality to a nonessential?
Originally published at lovehermeneutic.tumblr.com.